What are the definitions of impairment disability and handicap

• An impairment is the "deviation of an anatomic structure, physiologic function, intellectual capability, or emotional status from that which the individual possessed prior to an alteration in those structures or functions or from that expected from population norms."

• A disability is the "inability to complete a specific task successfully that the individual was previously capable of completing or that most members of a society are capable of completing owing to a medical or psychological deviation from prior health status or from the status expected of most members of a society." In other words, a disability is the inability to perform a specified task because of an impairment.

• An impaired individual is considered to have a handicap if there are obstacles to accomplishing life's basic activities that can be overcome only by compensating in some way for the effects of the impairment. In this context, a handicap is an assistive device or a task modification that allows an individual with an impairment to complete a task.

An example contrasting impairment and disability serves well. A person who sustains a thoracic fracture associated with a complete spinal cord injury has an impairment. Loss of motor and sensory function in the lower extremities and bowel/bladder dysfunction result from the anatomic deficit. If the person is an accountant, this medical impairment may or may not translate into disability, as the person may be able to perform accounting duties at work. On the other hand, if the person is a professional basketball player, the same medical impairment creates total disability. Thus, disability is task-specific, whereas impairment merely reflects an alteration from normal body functions. However, disability must be considered in the context of the system in which the individual has applied for relief. In certain systems, a person with lower extremity paraplegia may be presumed to be totally disabled. In this example, use of a wheelchair and specialized van may permit the accountant to travel to work and would be considered a handicap.

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